Microsoft’s management flagship, SMS 2003, was endorsed by Dell today, and more details emerged of its future development path, at its formal launch in Copenhagen, at Microsoft’s IT Forum event for European IT managers today.

Next year, Microsoft will merge the two halves of management, as its administration product Systems Management Server (SMS) merges with its real-time management and monitoring product Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM).

“SMS has come of age with SMS 2003,” said Michael Emanuel, senior product manager in Microsoft’s management business group. “It can start dating. And it will date MOM, which perhaps sounds a bit unfortunate,” he went on, wrily.

In the middle of 2004, SMS 2003 will be bundled with a new release of MOM – MOM 2004 – under the name SystemCenter, although both will also still be available separately. The two products will then be progressively merged into one unit.

The main improvements in SMS 2003 are integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD), better handling of mobile devices and more efficient data transfer, said Emanuel: “Till now, SMS has been a device manager. With the integration of AD, it can manage users and business process.”

The IT Forum keynote included a mockup demo where a user monitored both business and IT functions from one MOM console, relating alerts from Microsoft’s Biztalk that sales were low to a MOM message that the IIS web transaction server was down.

Mobile devices are handled the same way as fixed ones, said Emanuel, and data transfer is improved by transmitting only the change in any information in SMS 2003.

Dell is working with Microsoft to extend SMS’ patch management to cover hardware as well as software. “This will change the dynamics of patch management,” said Rick Balazs, senior manager at Dell, in a keynote cameo appearance.

Sometime in 2004, Dell customers will be able to use SMS to apply firmware upgrades to their hardware, said David Hamilton, director of the enterprise management division at Microsoft. It was implied, but not certain, that Microsoft would be able to offer the resulting technique to other hardware partners. “Dell don’t see this as a competitive advantage,” said Hamilton, “but an essential feature for customers.”

Dell also endorsed SMS by promising to deliver free management packs that make its servers manageable by SMS, and announcing plans to ship Microsoft’s Automatice Deployment Services (ADS) which installs new servers by shipping an image across the network to bare hardware.

For Microsoft, the only fly in the ointment was the location of the announcement, outside the town famous for its Tivoli Gardens – not actually named after IBM’s management solution. “We have to get a banner hung over the name of those gardens this week,” said Bill Anderson, product manager for SMS.